Lexi’s Book Club

Just in time for the New Year, I’ve presented five of my friends with a gift: the first section of my book.

Of course, they’re really the ones giving me the gift. These generous people have offered to read my travel memoir, front-to-back, and offer suggestions.

A handful of writerly friends have read pieces of the book, critiqued chapters here and there, but these five will be the first to read it in order, in full. I’m handing over Part I now, and I’ll offer Parts II and III as soon as I’ve finished revising them.

Yes, that means I’m not done revising, that I missed my January 1 goal. But I’m about two-thirds through, and I have to remind myself that’s solid progress.

Who are my lucky readers? I trust each one to give me quality, honest feedback. They’ve got a mix of perspectives. And only one has read even a piece of my book until now, meaning they probably don’t know what to expect.

Two journalist friends. A writer friend from college. My uncle, a college professor and avid traveler who reads tons of travel books. And one awesome friend who’s not a writer, who I’m hoping will read the manuscript like many of my future readers will — like a regular person. (No, I don’t need any more readers. Thank you for your offers, but I’ve got to leave a few of you to read the book when it’s published!)

Part I: West Africa is now in their hands. Am I nervous? A little. I have put an entire year of my life (so far) into this project. But I have confidence in the story. And whatever suggestions, critiques and criticisms they offer will help me improve that story.

On with Lexi’s Book Club!

An excerpt: Cameroonian patience

Last Monday, I kicked your butt into gear. This week, a gentler form of inspiration, an excerpt from my book.

Wanna learn about my travel memoir first? Check out this post.

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Packages from home take on new meaning in Africa. Peanut butter? Like gold. A favorite deodorant? More valuable than cash. And batteries for my digital camera that actually worked — they elicited a fist pump into the air.

So when I returned to Dschang, Cameroon, after a week in the village, I beelined to the post office. My sister had mailed me a parcel weeks before, and I desperately hoped it would arrive before I left the region.

The post office’s small main room was shoulder-to-shoulder crowded and loud, with mostly men yelling toward what appeared to be the front of the “line.” What was this chaos? Were they picking up government paychecks? I was about to tap on a man’s shoulder and ask when a post employee recognized me – not many whites frequented the Dschang post office. He gestured to follow him behind the counter, into the package room, where I had collected a parcel from my mom the previous week.

Bonjour,” I greeted the woman behind the desk as I took a seat in one of her office chairs. “Do you have a package for me?”

“I think I remember seeing one here for you,” she said, getting up from her seat to shift through boxes and padded envelopes that crowded shelves, waiting to be claimed.

“Really?” I pulled my passport out of my bag, knowing she would need to see it to confirm that I was the intended recipient.

“Yes, it’s here,” she confirmed, reaching behind a few boxes. “But, oh, I remember this package now.” She pulled the thick envelope out from behind the others. “I’m sorry to tell you there’s a problem. It arrived in poor condition.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said quickly, assuming the mail had been dropped in a puddle or smashed by the weight of other boxes. After all, it had crossed an ocean to reach me. “I’ll take it regardless of its condition.”

Now on her desk, the package clearly had ripped open sometime during its voyage, but the tears were at least partly covered with clear plastic tape. I held out my passport, eager to collect my parcel and leave so I could delve into my gift, but the employee wasn’t as ready as I was.

“You can see this package arrived here weighing one-and-a-half kilograms,” she said, pointing to scrawl on the envelope that apparently was official. Then she moved her pointer finger to a different part of the parcel. “But it left America weighing three kilograms.”

What was she getting at? My package had been so badly damaged that it lost half its weight? How could that happen? I looked at the woman, puzzled.

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Literary agent critiques my query

During an Editor Unleashed forum on Wednesday, literary agent Jessica Faust critiqued my query (the same query I shared with you in a previous post).

Her critique is very specific and quite helpful, which is why I’m sharing it here in full:

Never start out with “hoping I’m the right agent” it gives the impression that you really haven’t done your research. Remember when querying agents that you need to think of it as giving us the honor of reading your work. In other words, come on strong and sure. I’m excited to tell you about my travel memoir would be more appropriate. I’ll decide if I’m the right agent, but you don’t want to give me an easy out. You’ll also want to make sure that somewhere in there you have a word count.

In the second paragraph you describe your book as poignant and yet I get no sense of poignancy in your voice. Anytime you’re describing your work as something–humorous, poignant, suspenseful–you need to show in your voice that it matches the description. As you’ve written it here it feels very stiff and, frankly, not special. What about your book makes it different from the many other travel memoirs currently on the shelves at bookstores. Did you find adventure? How will it inspire readers to take those leaps? All of this needs to be shown.

I would skip revealing your age as well as the fact that you’re full of potential and good at editing. That’s always assumed. Let that show in your writing.

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